Prior to Week 8, the Cardinals had not scored more than 25 points in a game. Since then, the Cards has scored at least 27 points each game. Last week they had a season high 40 points in the win over the Colts. Arizona has had at least 332 yards of offense in each of the last 4 games. The Cards had fewer yards than that in 4 of the first 7 games.
So what gives?
Has the Cardinals offense gotten better? Or is this due to playing some struggling defenses?
I think you can argue both ways. The schedule in recent weeks has been soft. But you can also see changes. Rookie RB Andre Ellington didn’t have more than 7 carries in a game until the recent hot streak. In the past 4 games, he’s averaging more than 11 carries per game. WR Michael Floyd is playing his best football of the season. The offense isn’t turning the ball over. Carson Palmer has had 4 of his 5 highest QB rating games of the year in the recent stretch.
If the Cardinals offense is truly playing at a high level, the Eagles defense is in for a big challenge. Most of the talk in the past few days has been about the Cards defense going up against the Eagles offense. I trust Chip Kelly, Nick Foles, Shady McCoy, DeSean Jackson and the Biggies up front to find ways to move the ball and score some points.
The bigger concern for me is shutting down the Cards offense. Palmer is a veteran QB. The Eagles this year are 1-5 against veteran QBs.
vs Philip Rivers – L
vs Alex Smith – L
vs Peyton Manning – L
vs Eli Manning – W
vs Tony Romo – L
vs Eli Manning – L
The wins came against RG3, Mike Glennon, Eli, Terrelle Pryor, Scott Tolzien, and RG3.
The flip side of this is that Palmer isn’t as good a QB as the other veterans listed above. I know Eagles fans love to rip on Eli and Romo, but those guys are good QBs. Palmer has his moments, but he’s not at their level.
The Eagles defense has played better since the Denver debacle. No offense has scored more than 21 points in that stretch. The Cardinals might be the biggest challenge since they have 2 big, talented WRs, a good slot guy, an athletic TE, an explosive runner and a veteran QB. The one thing Arizona doesn’t have…a good O-line. They rank 29th in pass protection per MMQB. Palmer has been sacked 30 times. That is the 2nd highest total of his career (and we’ve still got 5 games to go!).
I hope Bill Davis looks back at the Dallas game. He challenged his CBs to come up big against Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. Davis was able to limit the Dallas run game and get pressure on Romo. I’d like to see that type of gameplan this week. I would rather see Davis be aggressive and take some chances than to sit back. If I’m Arizona, I’m throwing slants and fades left and right and challenging the Eagles corners.
The Eagles must get pressure on Palmer. He has thrown more than twice as many picks as all Eagles QBs combined (15 to 7). If you can get him to feel the heat, Palmer will take some chances. The front seven must come up big.
Dealing with the Cardinals receivers will be a challenge for the Eagles secondary. Last year that was a disaster, but this year the scheme is better and the players aren’t nearly as confused. Bradley Fletcher returns to action and that will help. Remember that he was on the Rams previously and faced Fitz and the Cards receivers twice a year. The scheme might have changed, but if Brad can offer any clues, it could help a lot.
A good game from the Eagles defense would be huge in the team beating the Cards and their hot offense.
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The Eagles are coming off the bye week. Andy Reid was gold with the bye week. He did a good job of self-scouting and making some changes. The frustrating part is that he didn’t do that better from week to week.
Kelly has done a good job with making adjustments. The question for him is what will he do coming out of the bye. Will Kelly have some wrinkles for the offense? Will he just focus on cleaning up some existing issues? I’m not expecting anything too major, but we’ll see.
The one wrinkle that I am curious about is mixing in Michael Vick as a runner in some situations. I didn’t think that would happen, but Vick told the press he would do it and was coy when asked about whether anything had been planned. If he’s willing and the situation is right, maybe Vick could be a good role player. Those QB sweeps from the first Giants game were really cool plays.
We also might see more of Brad Smith in the offense. He only had one play vs WAS. I could see the coaches coming up with specific plays for Smith. Let’s see what the guy can do.
Will the bye week hurt the Eagles in terms of momentum? The Birds have won 3 straight games. The rest was nice, but you don’t want the team to lose any momentum. During the Reid era, the Eagles only had one winning streak heading into the bye week and that was in 2004, the Super Bowl year. I have no idea what to expect in this area.
The Cards and Eagles have one of the more overlooked rivalries/histories. The two teams used to play each other twice a year when they were NFC East rivals. That stopped in 2002 when the NFL went to 4 divisions in each conference. Here are some memorable games of the last 20 years.
1992 – The Goal Line Stand. Cards had 7 plays from the 1-yard line and couldn’t score. On a couple of those the Eagles were offside and that’s why they had to come up with 7 stops. Final score: 7-3 Philly.
1994 – The Return of Buddy. Arizona came to town with new HC Buddy Ryan, making his first trip to The Vet since his firing by Norman Braman. Fred Barnett had a huge game 11-173 and accounted for both TDs in a 17-7 win.
1995 – The End of Buddy. In the next to last game of the year the Eagles were 9-5 and fighting for a playoff berth. The Cards were trying to stop a losing streak. The Eagles led 21-20 late in the game when ARZ drove to the PHI 29. On 3rd/7 they decided to pass rather than run and that led to a sack. The ensuing FG came up short. The Eagles went to the postseason and Buddy was fired a couple of weeks later.
1996 – The Wildest Ride. After 3 quarters the game was 16-13, Arizona. The 4th quarter became a major shootout. The Cards built up a 29-20 lead with just 2:30 left in the game. Derrick Witherspoon took the KO and went 95 yards to cut the lead to 29-27. The Eagles then recovered an onside kick and marched down the field quickly. The Eagles got inside the RZ and went conservative to make the Cards burn timeouts. A FG gave the Eagles a 30-29 lead. Arizona got the ball at their 34 with :45 left and no timeouts. Boomer Esiason led a masterful drive that ended in a 24-yd TD with :14 left. That game was one of the longest, crazies non-OT games I’ve ever seen. So, so heartbreaking. It was the Eagles third loss in a row after a 7-2 start to the season.
1998 - The Stupor Bowl. At the end of 3 quarters, the score was 0-0. One announcer said that was a first in NFL history. I’ve never checked that stat out. The Cards offense “got hot” and they won 17-3. Bobby Hoying…ugh.
1999 – Heartbreak City. The Eagles led the game 24-12 in Andy Reid’s debut as coach. The lead melted away to 24-22 late. Reid called a perfect pass play to WR Brian Finneran, who bobbled the ball and had it picked off by a DB. The Cards then drove down and kicked the winning FG. So much for the hot start with the new coach.
2000 – The Running of the Birds. Darnell Autry ran for a TD. In case you didn’t hear me, I said DARNELL AUTRY ran for a TD. His long run of the day was 6 yards. FB Cecil Martin had a 13-yard run. FB Stanley Pritchett had an 11-yard run. PK David Akers had a 15-yard run. That came on a brilliant fake FG. Koy Detmer flipped the ball over his shoulder and Akers got outside for a big gain. Beautiful play. Cards WR David Boston lost 17 yards on a run play. I assume he ran out of steroids and turned human right as tacklers hit him.
2001 – Another Blown Lead. The Eagles led 17-14 late. They had 4th/short, but were in FG range. Reid decided to kick the FG and trust his defense with a 20-14 lead. Jake Plummer led the Cards down the field. He then hit MarTay Jenkins with a 35-yard pass to win the game. Even worse, Troy Vincent was the guy burned on the play. He got turned around and left Jenkins wide open. Another ugh moment. In the revenge game out in the desert (meaning Arizona), Brian Mitchell ran a KO back 94 yards for a TD. Bill Gramatica tried to tackle him. Mitchell didn’t use a move, just ran straight at him at full speed. Gramatica suffered a dislocated left shoulder on the play. Mitch ran the ball harder than any return guy I’ve ever seen. He once gave LaVar Arrington a concussion when Arrington tried to tackle him on a KOR. Mitch was a great Eagle even though he was just here for 3 years.
2002 – Donovan McTough. McNabb got hit early in the game and complained of an ankle injury, but he never came out. The injury forced him to stay in the pocket and he did just that. He shredded the Cards, going 20-25-255. He threw 4 TDs and the Eagles won 38-14. We found out later that McNabb played on a broken leg.
2008 – Opposite ends of the spectrum. We played the Cards twice. The first meeting was a Thanksgiving night blowout. We won 48-20. Kyle Eckel had plenty of touches if that tells you how much of a blowout it was. The rematch came in the NFC title game. Kurt Warner and the Cards dominated the 1st half. McNabb led us back in the 2nd, but the defense gave up a late TD drive and we lost. Ugh. Again. Another blown lead.
2011 – Won’t get fooled again (yes you will). The hapless Cards came to Philly with some guy named John Skelton at QB. He sucked for most of the game, but got hot late and led the Cardinals to a pair of 4th quarter TDs and the win. Almost half of the Cards yards for the entire game came in the 4th quarter. The Eagles fell to 3-5 and proved to be every bit as hapless as the Cards. Another blown lead. Ugh, again.
2012 – Down and out. The 2-0 Eagles went to the desert and found out just how good Jason Kelce was. He tore his ACL the week before. Dallas Reynolds took over at C and essentially was the 12th Cardinal. They attacked the A-gap over and over and he was just overwhelmed. Michael Vick had to run for his life, but made things worse by turning the ball over. The Cards led 17-0 late in the half. The Eagles drove down to the 1 with just seconds left. Vick failed to see a wide open receiver in the end zone on one play. That was okay. There was still 3rd down and even if he had to throw that away, the team would get a chip shot FG and at least get on the board, right? Wrong, very wrong. Vick hesitated with the ball, got hit from behind and the ball came loose. James Sanders picked it up and ran 93 yards for a Cardinals TD. 24-0 felt like 10,000 to 0. I think that was the beginning of the end for Vick. At least the Eagles didn’t blow a late lead.
So as you can see, Sunday will probably be a boring, uneventful game. Nothing wild ever happens when the Birds get together. Yeah right. So let’s hear your predictions on what crazy things might happen Sunday.
Nick Foles runs for 100 yards?
Cary Williams covers Larry Fitzgerald tight for one play?
The Cardinals come to town on Sunday. The 7-4 Cardinals, that is. I’m shocked at the season they have had. I just didn’t see that team coming together and playing well. Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer have resurrected the offense. The defense has taken another step forward from last year and is one of the best units in the league. This isn’t a crappy Cardinals team that the Eagles should roll with ease. This game will be a test.
Here is an excellent piece by Doug Farrar on the Cardinals defense. He did film study himself, but also got good info from Greg Cosell. Per Cosell, the Cards blitz more than any team in the NFL. We expected the Raiders to blitz a lot, but they didn’t for due to the fear of getting burned due to the tempo and matchups. The Cards will blitz. This will be a big test for Foles.
Arizona has 29 sacks, just 5 more than the Eagles. The blitz does generate a lot of turnovers. They have at least one in every game and are 4th in the league in takeaways. Foles has yet to throw an INT. Can he keep that streak going against a team that has a speedy back seven like the Cardinals?
Arizona is 8th in points allowed and 8th in yards allowed. Football Outsiders has them ranked 2nd in defense with the DVOA rankings. This is a good group. But let’s not make them out to be some juggernaut that can’t be dealt with. They have allowed more 30-point games (3) than the Eagles (2).
They have given up more TD passes than the Eagles, 19 to 17. The Cardinals have shut down some weak offenses and backup QBs.
The Eagles are in for a big challenge, but so are the Cardinals. Arizona has only faced one elite offense this year. The Saints lit them up for 423 yards and 31 points. The Eagles have some serious weapons and it will be interesting to see which team is able to get then advantage.
I hope the Cardinals are able to get some pressure on Foles. We know he can pick apart a defense when he’s given a clean pocket. It would be good to see how he responds when he’s got more than occasional pressure. QBs must show they can handle adversity within a game. QBs need a short memory. If Foles makes a dumb throw or bad decision, let it go and move on. Don’t let that mistake hurt you twice.
Another test angle to this game is whether Foles gets caught up in the situation. This is a home game. The Eagles won in the last home game, but had struggled at The Linc prior to that. Will that be a factor? Also, will Foles feel any extra pressure since the Eagles are battling for playoff position? Dallas plays on Thanksgiving. That means Foles and the Eagles will know if Sunday’s game is to tie for 1st place or take sole possession of it.
Kelly likes his players to have blinders on. He wants them to treat every game, every opponent and every situation the same. Kelly wants consistent excellence and that will only happen when players can focus directly on the task at hand and not get caught up in the hype and trappings that come with big games.
While I’m talking about this game as a test for Foles, it isn’t a pass-fail type of situation. A loss by the Eagles or bad game from Foles does not sink him. It just gives us another piece of evidence to consider. Then we’d focus on how Foles played the next week, trying to see if he could bounce back from a poor showing. The flip side of that is true as well. If Foles plays well in this game, we’ll watch the next week to see how he responds.
At the end of the season, we’ll review all the evidence and figure out just what we think of Foles.
Truth be told, that’s why the Eagles organization is tickled pink right now. They get to see how Foles, as well as the other young guys on this roster, react when the pressure is ratcheted up. Five games (at least) to dip your players and coaches in hot water and see how they respond. That’s invaluable for an organization trying to shape a contender.
Back in 2000, Andy Reid’s 2nd year, the Eagles started off 5-4. The team then went 6-1 down the stretch. They won a pair of overtime games and another close game. The only loss was a tight game with the Titans. That young team got to the playoffs and was ready for the situation. They dominated the Bucs in the Wild Card game before getting whipped by the Giants in the Divisional round. It was abundantly clear that Donovan McNabb was a stud QB and that Reid was a top flight coach.
I think we’re all pretty sold on Chip Kelly. Foles and the players are the guys who have a great opportunity in the final 5 weeks of the regular season. They get a chance to show what they can do in some meaningful games.
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My PE.com column posted today. I covered the “test” angle there, but also wrote short stuff about a variety of items. Maybe the most interesting thing to me was seeing how Kelly is getting production from the passing game without having to throw the ball over and over and over.
Chip Kelly made it official today – Nick Foles is the starting QB for the rest of the season. We all knew it was true, but Kelly had to make it public and official. Nick earned the job so kudos to him.
I think Foles has played well enough to be the front-runner heading into 2014, but he will need to play well the final 5 weeks to truly secure the spot for the long term. The point of this is that Chip Kelly needs to find his QB. He needs a player he can build around. That isn’t a choice to be made lightly. If a coach picks the wrong guy, he’s likely to lose his job and the franchise can waste several years.
The Eagles are 6-5 right now. I’m willing to bet they will win at least one more game (hopefully several more). That means the team will likely be picking in the 11 to 16 range at the earliest (they’re 20th for now). Will there be QBs worth taking in that area? Would the team spend a 1st round pick on a QB?
There really are a lot of moving parts to this situation.
Foles controls his part of the equation. If he plays well, Kelly is going to become more sold that Nick is the guy for him and the Eagles. If he plays okay, that means that Kelly may still consider trying to upgrade if possible. If Foles has a stinker or two, Kelly may think QB is a position that needs to be addressed.
The part that no one controls is the market. Kelly can want an upgrade, but the right players have to be available. Kelly would have loved to land a stud QB last April, but that guy wasn’t in the draft so the Eagles spent their first pick on Lane Johnson. The Eagles have played their way out of the sweepstakes for guys like Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota.
There could be QBs that go in the mid-1st round. Derek Carr from Fresno State is a really intriguing player that I think would be an excellent fit for Kelly’s offense. Carr might have the best arm of any QB in the draft. He is a solid athlete and leads an up-tempo attack. He’s had such a strong Senior year that Carr might have played his way into the Top 10.
Johnny Football is a guy that is really tough to get a read on. It won’t shock me if he goes Top 10, but also won’t shock me if he slips further than some expect. He’s an erratic player and has serious maturity issues. Would Chip Kelly want him? Most people say yes, that’s the perfect guy for the system. I’m not so sure. I know Kelly recruited Manziel, but the guy is different now. Kelly wants plays to be run a certain way. Some improvisation is good, but Manziel might do too much of that. Manziel definitely throws more INTs than Kelly wants. And remember that Kelly raved about the Combine interview with Matt Barkley. I don’t know if Manziel is going to have the same affect on NFL teams when they meet him. If you haven’t read this great piece by Wright Thompson, do it now.
There could be other guys to consider in the mid-to-late 1st round. I’m not going through everyone at this point. Let’s see who declares and who finishes the season well. Kelly and the Eagles could spend a 2nd or 3rd round pick on a QB, but they would have to ask if that guy is genuinely better than Foles. You don’t want change for the sake of change. The Eagles would need to find someone who would be an upgrade. That gets tough outside the 1st round.
The other X-factor in all of this is Matt Barkley. He’s had a rough rookie season, but he’s also not played in ideal circumstances. Barkley saw most of his action in 2 games. He entered both with the team struggling and losing by 10 points. That put a lot of pressure on him. The coaches know what Barkley is doing every day in the classroom and on the practice field. That is more important than how he played in some tough losses.
The coaches have to ask 2 questions. First, can Barkley challenge for the starting role in 2014? Second, is he good enough to be the primary backup? Kelly always says you need at least 2 good QBs to win in the NFL. The coaches will have to be confident that Barkley could start and play well if called upon. Trying to upgrade on Barkley should be easier than Foles, but remember that the Eagles did have a 2nd round grade on Barkley. They’re not just going to grab some guy in the 3rd round. It would have to be a player the Eagles truly felt was better.
Would the Eagles want another rookie to pair with Foles and Barkley? Would they prefer a veteran to come in and help the young guys? Chip Kelly never had decisions like this at Oregon so we really don’t know what he’ll do.
With Pat Shurmur and Bill Lazor around, I’d almost like to see them go young. At that point, I’d go for an athletic QB toward the bottom of the draft. Lazor and Shurmur are veteran coaches that have worked with a lot of young QBs. They could serve the same purpose as a veteran QB. And depending on which skill players the Eagles keep around, those guys could also help with the young QBs.
More than a few fans are fascinated by Logan Thomas from Virginia Tech. I have no interest, unless the Eagles convert him to a TE or OLB. Thomas isn’t a consistently good college player. I just don’t trust guys like that to go to the NFL and suddenly learn how to play QB. I’d rather have someone like Jordan Lynch from Northern Illinois or Devin Gardner from Michigan. Each player has some issues, but they’ve also done some really impressive things in college. Thomas played his best as a Sophomore. Guys like that scare the heck out of me.
Should the Eagles decide to go for a veteran, I have no idea who they might target. Some have brought up the idea of Mike Vick sticking around. I think that would be a bad idea. Mike has said and done all the right things for 2 years, but he still wants to play. I think he’ll want to go somewhere that he can compete for the starting job with a feeling that he’s got a good chance to get it. I’d love to see Vick go to the Raiders. I think he’d look good in Silver and Black and would make those games fun to watch. Plus, he could help mentor Terrelle Pryor.
Hopefully Foles will finish well and the Eagles can put aside any worries about 1st round QBs. They can figure out how they want to go about finding someone else to be a backup. Figuring out the backup situation is the QB problem you want to have.
I think I raised the most relevant point. Will the Eagles sit their starters in the NFC Championship game so that the guys are well rested for the Super Bowl? That’s what I call some serious football analysis.
They have a franchise QB. And a stud RB. And a workhorse WR. And a talented TE. And a stable OL. And a good set of LBs, especially OLBs. All of that adds up to 3 stinking wins.
Last year the Skins started 3-6. They got some breaks, played better and went on a 7-game win streak to finish 10-6. Their fans bought into them as a team on the rise.
* The Skins have the worst STs in the league.
* 2 of their 3 wins came at the end of the game. They could easily be 1-10.
* The defense has only held one team all year to less than 24 points and that was Matt Flynn’s version of the Raiders.
* The offense has gone down in scoring each of the last 3 weeks.
* They’ve only had one game all year without a turnover and that came against the hapless 2-8-1 Vikings.
And on and on and on.
The Skins have been looking for the next Joe Gibbs for 20 years. They thought they found their dream coach in 2002 when they hired Steve Spurrier. He went 7-9 and 5-11.
They replaced him with Gibbs. But not the great guy from the 80′s. They got NASCAR Gibbs. He had 2 winning seasons, but still finished 30-34 in 4 years. They did at least win a Wild Card game in 2005.
In 2010 Mike Shanahan came to town to save the Skins. He had a pair of Super Bowl rings from his days in Denver. He was a certified offensive guru and knew how to coach up QBs. Shanny is 24-35 in Washington. He’s won just under 41 percent of his games. The 2012 division title is a major anomaly right now.
The organization has no 1st round pick since they dealt it to the Rams in the RG3 trade.
So there is a big mess in D.C. And fixing it won’t be easy. Do they bring back Shanny? He and the star QB don’t seem to be best buds right now. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has to be fired. He’s been awful. STs coach Keith Burns should be fired. He’s put out an awful unit. You don’t know who to blame the offense on so that side of things is more complicated.
Starting over is easier said than done, but that might be what Dan Snyder does. I sure hope he keeps Shanny and the boys in place. If there is a change, who do you go get?
I wonder if Joe Gibbs wants a 3rd crack at coaching the Skins.
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I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently Donovan McNabb was ripping Shanny on FoxSports1. I’ll try to see if I can find that footage.